As I stroll onto my front porch each morning to tend to my hanging baskets and other flower containers, I look across Thieme Drive – named for Theodore F. Thieme – and to the St. Marys River. The river bank is so overgrown that my view of the river is limited to peaks through the weed trees and underbrush. But on sunny days, the glint of the sun is visible as it bounces off the river flowing slowly by my home.
Looking across to Thieme Drive – Intersection of West Berry and Thieme
As I groom my flowers, I listen to the comforting noises of squirrels chittering and the trills of the many birds flitting through the trees. The magnificent Sycamores that line the south side of Thieme Drive drop their mottled bark, and, if I listen closely, I hear the soft “crack” of the bark splitting and wafting to the ground.
I have a dream – a vision if you will – for Thieme Drive and the St. Marys River as it flows lazily past my home. But before I lay out my vision, I would like to share the history of Thieme Drive so its importance to our Fort Wayne history is not lost. That history was gleaned from researching on the internet and from a visit to the Hyde Brothers Book Store on Wells Street.
Last year, as I was browsing through the books, I came across a book titled “Theodore F. Thieme: A Man and His Times” by Ross F. Lockridge. I picked it up and started skimming through it. It had wonderful old pictures of Fort Wayne and the Wayne Knitting Mills – the successful endeavor undertaken by Mr. Thieme in August 1891. But, even more than the old pictures and the text full of the story of Mr. Thieme, the book contained one more surprise – a surprise that I knew made the book worth the $45 price tag.
Inside the front cover, in the ever so gracious script handwriting of the old days was the autograph of Theodore F. Thieme with the date of December 1942. I debated purchasing the book for about two seconds, but I knew that this biography with its graceful autograph was coming home with me to become a part of my library.
The Wayne Knitting Mills was a dream born of Theodore Thieme’s travels to Germany where he visited hosiery mills and determined that this was the trade he wanted to bring back to America. Although Mr. Thieme originally chose Philadelphia as the ideal city for his future business, a group of Fort Wayne business men convinced him that he should return to Fort Wayne to begin his new business. His finances arranged, Theodore F. Thieme was ready to begin his adventure in the hosiery making industry in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The products of the Wayne Knitting Mills became world renowned with its hosiery sought around the world for almost 70 years – from 1892 to 1960. The factory was located at West Main Street and Growth Avenue and employed hundreds of workers, mostly women. With the era of nylon hosiery sounding the death knell for knit hosiery, the business slowly faded into history, closing its doors in 1960. The buildings still stand on Growth Avenue – a testament to one of Fort Wayne’s great entrepreneurs.
Wayne Knitting Mills – 1930
Photo Credit: The History Center/Allen County – Fort Wayne Historical Society
But Theodore Thieme was not just an entrepreneur; he was also an early proponent of beautification of our Fort Wayne rivers. He turned an old dumping ground near the corner of Rockhill and West Main into a small park with an overlook for citizens to rest and relax and enjoy a view of the St. Marys River as it flows under the Main Street bridge. A plaque dedicated to the efforts of Mr. Thieme still adorns the balustrade railing curving outward at the park.
Thieme Drive across from my home – underbrush and weeds obscure the view of the river
So to my dream for Thieme. I have identified five steps which I believe will lead to a beautification of Thieme Drive that it so justly deserves.
· Thieme Drive should be made a one-way running northeast from West Washington Boulevard to Main Street. Although not formally finished, Thieme Drive is a part of the River Greenway system. Joggers and bicyclists use the path extensively, especially in warmer weather. Motorists tend to use the Drive as a cut-through heading out to West Jefferson Boulevard. The speed that is attained is a danger to non-motorists. Thus, the one-way direction would provide a safer environment for joggers and bicyclists.
· The riverbank needs to be cleaned and groomed. Thieme Drive suffers from benign neglect. Although it is one of only a couple of river drives left where one can actually see the river, the City rarely cuts the weed trees or brush.
· Construct a formal greenway path for joggers and bicyclists. The River Greenway should be formally extended along Thieme Drive to the entrance of the existing East Swinney Park path.
· Concurrent with the extension of the River Greenway and the cleaning of the river bank, landscaping of the banks should be undertaken using flood-tolerant plants
· Thieme Drive has one area that is similar in nature to the overlook at Main and Rockhill. It is slightly to the southwest of my home and could be converted to a smaller version of the overlook. It would be an excellent location to put in a bench and perhaps an additional balustrade. Although it would be subject to flooding, the area could be arranged to accommodate the flooding.
I truly wish the City could appreciate the value of this remaining river drive in the heart of Fort Wayne. Theodore F. Thieme contributed greatly to the history of Fort Wayne, and, in his honor, Thieme Drive bears his name. For too long, the Drive has been allowed to languish in overgrowth. It is now time to take a long, hard look at Thieme Drive and use our efforts to make it a true reflection of the “City Beautiful” Theodore F. Thieme sought to create in Fort Wayne.